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Sandy's HurriCrane Could Use a Drone

Hurricane Sandy has, if anything, made a perfect case for using small unmanned aerial systems to size up damage and to carry out search and rescue operations in otherwise treacherous environments or scenarios.

by Brian Anderson
Oct 30 2012, 12:00am

Because fuck, sending some poor saps up 80-some-odd stories to inspect that thing, right?

Hurricane Sandy has, if anything, made a perfect case for using small unmanned aerial systems to size up damage and to carry out search and rescue operations in otherwise treacherous environments or scenarios. Wind gusts are still ripping across the region as Sandy gets lost. And for all the death and destruction, transit headaches and rapid-fire (see: real, real annoying, in large part) meme generation wrought by the Frankenstorm, CraneGate has to be one of the more visibly striking justifications for disaster drones.

This seems to be the only footage of the crane’s collapse

Yesterday afternoon, of course, 90+ MPH winds toppled a construction crane atop a luxury apartment tower, recently dubbed the “Global Billionaires’ Club” by the New York Times, in midtown Manhattan. The thing – thankfully – has stayed put ever since, hanging like a wilted weed over a wide evacuation zone far below. While it’s unclear whether lax oversight prior to Sandy’s arrival resulted in the crane’s snapping, or whether it was all an unfortunate matter of freak winds catching the thing just right, the truth is that so long as the crane, which is owned and operated by Pinnacle Industries II LLC, dangles precariously, lives are at risk. Just imagine all that steel breaking lose, and the wind catching it just so.

We’ve got a giant missile on our hands, in other words. And why we’re putting even more lives in danger to deactivate the thing is beyond me. We don’t have to. Small UAVs are regularly put to comparable jobs. Just look at this micro drone checking out the crowns of power lines:

Or this guy scoping out massive wind turbines.

Or think about cell tower inspection. Think about silo inspection. If more and more we’re seeing small drones being launched to carry out dull, dirty, and/or dangerous jobs, why aren’t we seeing the same thing at One57 in Manhattan?

Oh, right, because the exact opposite is happening. As city Buildings Department spokesman Tony Sclafani told reporters yesterday, a crew of engineers and inspectors – “the best of the best,” Sclafani said – are set to scale over 70 flights of stairs (in a building that’s still under construction, remember, and in still-crackling winds) to survey the damage.

Not like I don’t wish them godspeed, if they’ve not yet made it there and back. But how are these calls still being made?

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Reach Brian at brian@motherboard.tv. @thebanderson

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